Asides

Submit or Die: Join A Hashtag Community

You may have heard that in certain circles (largely academic), you must publish or perish.

Well, isn’t the same thing true of any writer? And if you are primarily a writer, and not, say, one who concerns themselves with the esoteric functions of some industry or industrial complex, then you really must publish or perish.

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Submit or die

And what do you need to do first, before you can publish? That’s right. Submit. So really, it’s Submit or Die. And that can mean several things.
You can submit your work to journals, websites, contests and the like. Or you can submit queries to agents, publishers or magazines to publish your articles. Really, the how or what doesn’t matter (I mean, yes, ultimately it does matter), because the bottom line is that you must submit something in order to get started.

There are many people who write and do not submit. They exist in a netherworld of anonymity, known as writers only to themselves and close friends and family (and sometimes, not even that). Sometimes, they think they are not good enough. Sometimes, they don’t think their work is ready or they say they simply don’t have time. There are as many reasons for not submitting as there are writers out there.

But the end result is that only those who submit get published. And those who talk about writing but do nothing about submitting are doing a disservice to their writing.

“So I played softball in high school for four years and utterly sucked at it. Like I was embarrassingly bad. That said, I stuck with it. Something about that practice of persistence in spite of continuous failure *read rejection letters*, has fully prepared me for my life as a writer. Thank You, Softball” – Sagirah Shahid

Recently, I saw a post by a poet friend on Facebook, telling how her experience with being bad at softball – but sticking with it – helped to prepare her for life as a writer. She graciously agreed to let me share it. Resiliency. Gotta have it.

But sometimes it’s easier to do other things, and no one will really notice, right? Well, that’s where a support group comes in. Encouragement and accountability might be the things you need to get yourself on a submitting track.

There are some who say that a true writer must write every day; but also some who say that you should just write whenever you can – but above all, make time for it. I have belonged to two groups over the past 9 or 10 months that have helped me do just that. They both offer Encouragement and Accountability. But no judgment.

The first one that I joined, and I would suggest everyone do this, goes along with the principle of writing every day. It is a monthly writing challenge, centered around a hashtag on Twitter, and I wrote about it here. The second one is a Facebook group that operates on the make-time-for-it option, called #1kTuesday, run by the talented and generous Molly Beth Griffin. Both encourage writing and have another thing in common: no judgment. We all have our demons. But we can still celebrate our successes, even the smallest ones, because small successes tend to pile up to be big successes.

Facebook group #SubmitSunday

What I would like to do is build up a similar kind of encouragement aimed at submissions. I will do this more on the model of #1kTuesday, with a Facebook group and a hashtag. I am calling it #SubmitSunday – though in reality there will be no penalty for submitting on other days. The idea, though, is that you will know as you are spending some time on a Sunday morning, afternoon or evening working on submissions that there are others out there doing the same thing. Make time for it.

And when you are done, you can head on over to the Facebook group and enter your accomplishment. I will ask anyone who is a member of the group to submit each Sunday (or any day) what they did, then I will tally them every Monday. It could be “Submitted to x number of journals,” or “Submitted “so-and-so” piece to x journal” or it could be “Worked on a proposal for a writing grant/residency for one hour.” It could even be “Researched markets with x resource for an hour.” It’s okay to do research, but Extra Brownie Points will be awarded for those who are actually submitting work, and who can name the piece and pass along the market that they submitted to.

Occasionally I will share resources that I know of and trust, and I would encourage others to do the same – places where markets, contests and grants are listed that others will find handy. I always share this kind of information with my students and it is nothing but a good feeling. If you are an editor of a publication or director of a program that awards grants or residencies to writers, I would love to see you post the details in the group or simply with the hashtag on Twitter. Open reading periods, deadlines for contests, requests for proposals – all is game.

I have already started the Facebook group, so please join #SubmitSunday. You don’t have to be a Friend of mine on Facebook, and you can invite anyone you want. Also, use the #SubmitSunday hashtag on Twitter (follow me there at @LindaWonder if you don’t already), and tell your friends! I hope that you can join me!

Joining the Writing Club

“I’m not a writer”

I have been teaching classes at the Loft Literary Center for about five years now, and there is something that I always run into. These classes fall on the career side of things – how to promote yourself, how to build an online platform, how to use social media, how to find speaking opportunities, that type of thing.

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Invariably, in any one of my classes, as we go around the group and do a little pre-class discovery, the same thing crops up. At least one person – and usually more than one – will indicate that the project they are working on, having written or at least hope to promote does not really qualify them as a writer. They always start out by saying, “I’m not a writer, but I wrote this book… “ Maybe it is a collection of stories their grandfather told, maybe a memoir about their childhood, maybe it is a series of essays on living in the northland. One woman collected and edited 2,000 of her mother’s letters, wrote introductions to each chapter, footnoted the whole thing, collected photos (including getting permission where necessary) and then told me she wasn’t a writer.

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My response to them is always the same. “You are a writer. Get over it. Own it.” I feel like they will not make great strides in promoting their project until they take ownership of it and realize that it came out of their own head. Never mind that it was a collection of letters, or stories someone else told them on the front porch, or just a little column that they scribbled for the weekly newspaper. It’s all writing – fiction isn’t the only thing that counts – and I want them to accept that.

I have always written, and I have always self-identified as a writer. I always saw myself sitting at a desk writing. There was never any doubt that my career would have something to do with writing. But then, it often did not. I wrote copy. I wrote press releases. I wrote tons of blog posts, social media posts, and articles. Still, that’s writing. Except when someone asks what you do, and you say you are a writer, and their question is always, “Would I have read anything you’ve written?” And the answer is well, no, not unless you’ve read the Cold Weather Rule brochure for the Public Utilities Commission, or the many press kits that I’ve written over the past several years, or perhaps the series of job search posts I wrote over the span of a year and a half for a careers blog. And no, they hadn’t.

Still, I couldn’t blame them. Because I knew there was something else in me, something else brewing. I just didn’t know what. Imagine my surprise when I finally started writing a big project, and it felt like I was butting into the club.

The Writing Challenge

Oh sure, I’d taken my stabs at writing a novel. I had started several when I was younger. I even tried to write a play once. I did NaNoWriMo in 2009, and barely got half way before I realized that the inane dribble I was spouting was going nowhere. I just wasn’t feeling it. I always maintained that I was a poet and essayist first.

Then this past April, I did a blog post challenge. I wanted to kickstart this blog, and it was somewhat helpful in doing that. But most of all, what it taught me was that if you are going to write, and you need to write every day in order to write, then you had better make it a priority, and you had better do it first thing. And it’s helpful to have support, accountability, and check-ins. So that’s a great lesson learned.

Still, I didn’t have an idea for that great novel. Then one night I stayed up late to watch a show on PBS on one of my favorite topics – ancient peoples. This one was about a series of discoveries just made in the last couple years, of Neolithic villages in the north of the British Isles. At the very end, the host made a comment and used a phrase that seared itself right into my very brain. I watched the end of that show with my mouth hanging open. I knew that I had a story.

I thought about it for a few weeks. Then I saw the August Writing Challenge hashtag (#AugWritingChallenge) on Twitter (there are other months, too, just check the website). I went to the website and read the whole thing. It was already August 1, and I didn’t have time to write anything that night, so I started the next night. I had already written the opening scene (or at least the first scene that came to my mind) on a legal pad. I typed it out. I typed some more. I got over 1000 words that first day. And I’ve been loving it ever since.

Giving Yourself Permission

The idea is to write at least 500 words a day, every day, for the whole month. There is an online participation log, and shout outs on Twitter. I love the log. I get to see all those numbers marching across the row, for every day I have written. There are a few zeros on there, but there are far more that are over 1000 words, and I know it will take a while, but it feels great. And the shout outs are really sweet, too. What better for someone sitting alone in a room with the blinds drawn on a summer day?

And now, hey. Guess what? I’m writing. I’m writing nearly every day. I’m writing this novel, and I’m writing blog posts for this poor neglected blog, and articles on my Books column on Examiner.com, and things that I have long promised to other people.

But sometimes, when I post my word counts on Twitter with the hashtag, I still feel like I’m play-acting a little bit. Like maybe those ‘real’ authors out there are going to somehow call me on it. I fall into the old trap: “I’m not really a writer, but I wrote this book.”

But that’s not true. I’m not play acting. I’m actually doing it. I’m giving myself permission. So, to quote another Twitter hashtag #TenThingsNottoSaytoaWriter, my contribution was “Would I have read anything you’ve written?”

Not yet. But some day, you just might.

Find me on Twitter at @LindaWonder and @PubBones and let’s talk about writing… !

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A is for AWP

Here is my first post for the April A to Z Challenge. A is for AWP, folks!

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Every year, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) meets in a different city. The Internet explodes with articles about “How to Make the Most of AWP.” All of my writer friends start talking about it about a month in advance, especially the ones who teach at colleges. It’s one of the biggest conferences out there: the estimate this year is that 10,000 people will attend.

This year will be my first time attending the conference. I have heard about it for years, and I have wanted to go for a while. Last year I was going to go but had to cancel at the last minute. This year, it is in my backyard, in Minneapolis, so I couldn’t pass that up. I’m taking the money I saved on plane fare and spending it on a hotel room, so that I can dive in and not come up for air until it’s over. I’m looking forward to it.

AWP is an industry conference but also geared highly towards the average writer. There are many more breakout sessions to attend than at other conferences I’ve been to, and the schedule is insane. I still haven’t finished going through it all. They have a nice feature where you can mark a session that interests you, and add it to your schedule. So when you’re done, you print it or send it to your phone or whatever, and then you have a handy list of everything you want to do, when it’s scheduled and where it is. Some sessions are geared towards academics, but most are simply for writers. There’s everything from How and Why to Blog to publishing companies sponsoring readings from their authors. I have several choices marked for each session time – it will come down to a game-time decision based on where I am standing, what else has come up, and what I feel like doing.

Of course, one of the fun parts of AWP is the off-site events. There are myriad parties, readings, happy hours and so much more. Everyone pulls out their A game. I’ve received about 25 event invites on FB so far, and I am having trouble deciding what I want to do. One of my issues is that I don’t want to drive. I want to park my car and leave it there – that’s the whole point of getting a hotel room. There is a good bike rental service in downtown Minneapolis, called Nice Ride, so if I really want to get to something off-site, I could probably use that.

The problem with big parties is that they are just that – big. Huge crowds of people all talking to each other is something I can’t do for days on end. I’m going to be by myself too, which makes it kind of awkward sometimes. I expect that at most events I will know people, so that’s not really a big concern. But I don’t have a pal to hang with. If push comes to shove, I can always retreat to my hotel room and actually write.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to is meeting people in person that I have been communicating with for years. I am hoping to set up a time to meet with Bethanne Patrick, otherwise known as The Book Maven, as well as run into Jane Ciabattari, a past President of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC). I’ve done blog posts for both of them in the past, and follow them both on several social media platforms. I also hope to meet some writers that I admire, such as Dani Shapiro.

I’ll make the bookfair my first stop, since I know several people who are exhibiting. And my attendance at AWP is not as a publishing professional: it is as a writer. So I’m going to be there first and foremost for myself. I want to get to the bookfair before it gets too crowded, before everyone gets tired out, and before they run out of copies of their latest issue. I want to visit journals that I might submit my work to, and meet the editors whenever possible. I also want some facetime with folks that I have worked with in the past.

I’m so looking forward to this! If you are on Twitter, look me up @LindaWonder and follow along as I navigate this spectacle. It starts next Wednesday!

Spring has sprung!

I don’t know about where you are in the world, but where I am, spring is taking its sweet old time getting here. Last year we had a very late spring, so this is nothing new. But we do get a bit inpatient when it starts to get into April and there’s still snow on the ground (and in the forecast!). We had another six inches last Friday, but it’s all melting fast now.

And this brings up a common conundrum for me – and I think for writers everywhere. The Minnesota Book Awards were last Saturday, and I attended, as I’ve done for the past few years. It was lovely. One comment by one of the presenters struck me especially. It was Alexs Pate, and he was talking about the writing process (as presenters are wont to do). He said something like, “We writers know what it is to battle between the allure of the glowing screen and the lure of sunlight.”

Oh, don’t I know it! The trouble for me is that I cannot work outside. Too many allergies, plus there’s that bee phobia. I always attract bees. And there’s too much glare and the wind ruffles my pages and so on and so on. Distractions. We built a new deck last year so I am hoping that helps somewhat, but I just don’t see myself as a ‘work outside’ kind of person. Which is a shame, and makes this a time of year when it’s especially hard to be productive.

It’s very sunny out right now, it is probably 60 degrees, and the sun is glaring right off the side of my white garage into my window and straight at my eyes. The sun is verily searing my eyeballs. How am I supposed to combat that?

Well, I start by opening the basement door to block the sun. And I keep my window blind down in my office all the time. It’s south facing, so it is better that way. Pity, I know, but what are ya gonna do?

I often find that I have no idea how heavenly it is outside until I turn on the news at 5 or 6 pm and hear them raving about it. (We pay a lot of attention to the weather here.) Unless I think to step outside for a minute myself. I used to get outside to check the mail, but since my husband is home days, he has taken over that duty. What to do?

I know. I’ll eat lunch outside, once we get the patio table out of the shed. That should do it, right? Or just set an appointment on my phone to remind myself to look up every now and then, and not only because the sun is blinding me. Once the garden is in, I can step outside to pull a few weeds once in a while.

There’s that morning walk I’ve been meaning to take all winter. Maybe it’s time to start that.

What do you think? Are you ever torn between getting words down on the page and heading out to enjoy a beautiful day? What do you do to deal with that? Is there a happy medium?

I’d love to hear tips and tricks. I’d also love to hear that I’m not alone! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love nice weather as much as the next guy. It just makes it hard to get work done (especially the type of work that does not have an immediate paycheck).

Your Own Olympics

OlympicsI love to watch the Olympics. I’m all about inspirational moments (yes, this means I also watch the Oscars and milestone events, like Jay Leno’s last show). This particular Olympics seems chock-full of stories of those who have persevered or overcome perceived obstacles like age and location, and the folks who have not rested on their laurels.

I’m talking about you, Armin Zoeggeler, the Italian luge racer who has won medals in six consecutive Olympics, which is a record for an individual sport. He is 40 years old and just won a Gold medal yesterday. Then there is Shiva Keshavan, the Indian competing under the Olympic flag because India was suspended by the IOC from competing. He has no coach, no track – he trains on a sled on wheels, whizzing along the streets. He is the one who fell off his sled on a practice run but was able to get back on it and finish the run – at something like 80 miles per hour. This guy doesn’t give up.

There is the Canadian snowboarder from Saskatchewan who trained on dry hills, because his home is so flat. There is the Norwegian who won Gold in the Biathalon at the age of 40. There is the Russian who competed in his seventh Olympics and at 42 became the oldest to ever win an individual medal in Olympic history (beating out the Norwegian Biathlete from the day before).

Everyone knows about Yevgeny Plushenko, who at 31 years old is the grandfather of figure skating, and who helped lead the Russians to the Gold in the first-ever Team Ice Skating competition. He said, “I try to forget all my titles. I want to open a new page in my book.” And this seems to be the key – who can make progress without trying a new trick now and then?

Plushenko said, “Four years ago I couldn’t imagine doing a quad in competition. Now I’m planning on two quads.” Well, he didn’t end up doing both of them, but he wasn’t afraid to try. Sage Kotsenberg won the first-ever Gold medal in Slopestyle with a trick he had never tried before: a Back 1620 Japan. For those of you wondering, that’s four and a half rotations in the air, corked (off-axis) and landed on your non-dominant side (backwards). He seemed as surprised as anyone, but certainly happy.

There are many more stories like this, of course. Who could ever forget the Jamaican bobsled team? This time, they lost their luggage en route, but it eventually showed up. Still, it didn’t seem to phase them; other teams offered to loan them clothes and equipment. The main thing is, that not a one of these people was afraid to try. They all forged ahead. They tried new things. Sometimes, they came back from defeat. Sometimes, they changed their attitude. In the end, they are all winners.

You can do this. You never know until you try. Make your own next chance, and win your own Olympics. Learn the new software, try the new tactic, make the new connection. Me, I confess I’ll be watching a lot of these stories unfold over the next two weeks, but I’m going to carve out some time to get my own game up to world-class competition level, too. What’s holding you back? What can you do today to bring your game a little further along? Where will you be in a year if you don’t do it?

Thankfulness

Hello all you bone-crushers!
I know, there are not many yet, but I am confident that there will be more. I have our first registration this week! If you are interested in registering and being grandfathered in when the paying model starts, go ahead and hit the Free Registration page. I am very excited about this endeavor, and I am sure that together, we will all be able to help each other. I look forward to sharing everything I know, and to helping you share your experiences with each other.

I am still reeling from the shock of the loss of my extraordinary friend. But I am aware that I have much to be thankful for. So this year, as much as you can, look around. Note the good things in life. Be aware that all complaints are relative (and I don’t mean that all complaints should be about relatives!). Take comfort in the good things in life. Hug those you love. Make time.

Here’s a short list of things I am thankful for:
Love in hard times.
Friends and family who love me anyway.
Books – and the awesome writers who write them.
The opportunity to work at doing what I love.
A cool clear glass of water.
My fuzzy slippers.

I am thankful every day that I am able to pursue my dreams, that I have the curiosity to do so, and that my body continues to hold me up. I know it may sound trite, but I’m happy that my hands function to type, my eyes function to read, and any pain is minor enough not to distract me. Anything is possible!

A very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month? It started on November 1. You can sign up for free on the NaNoWriMo website, and then, if you complete a 50,000 word novel (presumably coherent) during the month of November, and upload it onto the site, you will receive a certificate and other goodies.

I tried this once, and it’s a great exercise, if nothing else. But honestly, they should do it some other month. November is a terrible month to be taking on a project like this. But someday, I’ll do it again.

What I learned before is that you have to do your prep. There are all kinds of planning aids available, and there are even meet-ups in some cities where writers can hunker down together and type away as a group. The common wisdom is that you need to write 4,000 words a day. Heck, who can’t do that?

It’s all about being part of something bigger. If you want to try it, it’s not too late. Get on over there, check out the forums and sign up for your very own NaNoWriMo.